BY KEN BURGER of The Citadel Post and Courier staff
Dec. 9, 2004 Charleston, SC
The trip from invincibility to vulnerability is short and scary. Wendy Anderson knows this very well. She is on the road between the two, gripping the wheel of life tightly and hoping for the best. Like most athletes, she’s been flying down life’s four-lane highway without fear. Then, suddenly, she hit the brakes. “I remember the day the doctor said something didn’t feel right when he examined a lump in my breast,” she said. That was in October when Anderson, the women’s volleyball coach at The Citadel, was worried about real-life things like beating UNC Greensboro. But those things would soon take a back seat on this journey. The next step was a mastectomy and reconstruction of her left breast. Then more bad news. She would need chemotherapy. “Once I got over the shock of all this, I’ve tried to approach it like an athlete and a coach,” said Anderson, who is 37 years old. “I’ve had challenges before. This is just another one.” A very important one.
Athletics brought Anderson this far and will no doubt help her the rest of the way. One of six children, the Cowpens native knew the only way she would go to college would be through sports. So she worked hard, earned a volleyball scholarship to Clemson and got her degree in education. After a year of teaching, she landed the job as head volleyball coach at Converse College. In her spare time she started playing handball (the international game played on a basketball court), played on the U.S. national team and became a world-class player in that sport. Her next challenge came in 1999 when she accepted the job of building the women’s volleyball program at The Citadel. From ground zero, she has brought The Citadel women to respectability during her six seasons at the military school. Last year, they won their first Southern Conference game. “We’re getting better,” Anderson said of the program. “I knew it would be a challenge. As a coach, I like challenges.” But as a volleyball coach, she has some sense of control. As a cancer patient, all she can control is her attitude.
Last Friday night, she had her team over to her house and they ceremoniously cut her long hair. Each player snipped a lock and saved it. Anderson said it was emotional, funny and frightening all at the same time. “I’m going to lose my hair during chemo,” she said. “So we decided to cut it off as a way of preparing for this. My girls are wonderful. It’s been emotional for all of us.” But it’s more than that. It’s also an opportunity to teach. Anderson certainly didn’t know this detour in her life was coming, but now that she’s on this road, she wants others to learn from it. “I feel this has happened for a reason,” she said. “Maybe I’m supposed to be a spokesman to reach young athletes and educate them about this. I sat my team down and talked to them about being aware of breast cancer. It’s not something that just happens to your grandmother or your great aunt. It can happen to your sister. It can happen to you.”
Reprinted with permission from The Citadel Post and Courier